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Did Corbyn activists break election law?

The Jeremy Corbyn-backing Momentum group faces an official investigation into its election spending

The Jeremy Corbyn-backing Momentum group faced an official investigation into its election spending last night after it declared just £38,000 of expenditure – while raising more than £120,000.

The hard-Left grassroots organisation was credited with helping the Labour leader deprive Theresa May of a majority in June.

But yesterday the Electoral Commission said it had ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect it may have broken spending limits – and therefore the law – by not properly declaring its donations.

Despite its pivotal role during the election campaign, Momentum claimed in its official return that it spent just £38,742. But documents uncovered by the Daily Mail reveal how it raised more than £120,000 during the four weeks before polling day.

In a video posted on Momentum’s online crowd-funding page and social media platforms a month ahead of the election, former broadcaster and arch-Corbyn cheerleader Paul Mason told supporters: ‘At Momentum, we’ve got a plan to use technology, mobilisation and the hundreds of thousands of people who support Jeremy Corbyn … to deliver victory for the most radical Labour programme you have ever seen.

‘But we need money. A lot of it.’

More than £40,000 was raised on the crowd-funding page on the first day alone, with more than £120,000 raised online during the final four weeks up to polling day. Momentum is credited with helping Labour gain 30 seats. 

Ousted Tory MPs told how they had been outgunned on the doorstep as the group flooded their constituencies with hundreds of campaigners.

It organised mass campaign weekends in around a dozen constituencies that turned red, including Croydon Central, Derby North, Sheffield Hallam, Battersea, Leeds North West, and Brighton Kemptown.

Did Corbyn activists break election law?

Sick: Videos produced by Momentum included, Daddy Why Do You Hate Me? (top)

Sick: Videos produced by Momentum included, Daddy Why Do You Hate Me? (top)

The group developed a website, My Nearest Marginal, used by more than 100,000 people to direct activists towards their nearest key seat. 

It also reached millions online with slick videos seen by more than a quarter of Facebook users in the final week of the campaign. One film, ‘Daddy, Why Do You Hate Me?’ was viewed more than seven million times.

As a non-party campaign that told voters to back a specific party, Momentum was permitted to spend £39,000 during the election. It could have spent above the limit if Labour had granted it permission to use part of its expenditure allowance, however the party did not recognise the group as part of its official campaign.

Electoral Commission records show that Momentum reported total spending of £38,742.54 across the UK during the campaign, only £257.46 below the £39,000 limit.

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) states any membership political group, such as Momentum, must declare any donations above £7,500.

No such donations to Momentum have ever been registered with the Electoral Commission.

The Commission said that after examining Momentum’s return it had decided to launch an investigation that will look at whether it spent in excess of the spending limits, submitted a return that did not include accurate donation information or submitted a return that did not include all invoices for payments of more than £200.

The watchdog added: ‘It is possible that during the course of the investigation, the Commission will identify potential contraventions and/or offences under PPERA other than those set out above.’ Its director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel, Bob Posner, said: ‘There is significant public interest in us investigating Momentum.

‘Once complete, the Commission will decide whether any breaches have occurred and, if so, what further action may be appropriate.’

Last night Momentum said it had delivered a ‘low budget’ campaign thanks to the ‘energy’ of it its volunteers. A spokesman said: ‘Much of the Electoral Commission investigation refers to a series of administrative errors that can be easily rectified. Momentum put a lot of effort and resources into detailed budgeting and financial procedures during the election to ensure full compliance.

‘Our election campaign was delivered on a low budget because it tapped into the energy and enthusiasm of tens of thousands of volunteers.

‘We will fully comply with the investigation going forward.’


What is Momentum?

It’s a grass-roots activist movement which grew out of the 2015 campaign to win Jeremy Corbyn the Labour leadership. It claims to ‘exist to build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader campaign, to increase participatory democracy, solidarity, and grassroots power’ and help Labour become a ‘transformative governing party’. To its critics, it is a hard-Left alliance of students and Trotskyists conducting an ‘entryist’ takeover of the Labour Party.

Who is in charge?

Momentum was founded by Jon Lansman, a former public schoolboy and a fixture of the Bennite wing of Labour. It is run by a steering committee and has an estimated 23,000 members, 200,000 supporters and 150 local groups. It is said to be financed by donations. Anything over £7,500 has to be declared. But nothing of that size has ever been donated.

How does it help Corbyn?

During the 2015 leadership campaign Momentum played a key role in recruiting members. Under a new rule, ‘registered supporters’ could – in return for a £3 membership fee – vote in the election. Hundreds of thousands of people, often the young, helped propel Mr Corbyn to victory. When Owen Smith challenged Corbyn last year Momentum helped recruit activists again.

What were its election tactics?

Momentum ran its own campaign, separate from the Labour Party, supporting sympathetic MPs and providing boots on the ground to deliver leaflets in target seats. It registered as a ‘non-party’ campaign group, meaning it was allowed to spend a total of £39,000 across the UK. But in the run up to polling day it raised £120,000 online. Much of its campaigning efforts – and organisation – take place online on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Tory MPs – and moderate Labour politicians critical of Mr Corbyn – point the finger at Momentum activists for the disturbing rise of vitriolic online trolling. In May, it produced a propaganda video attacking the middle classes. Set in a suburban garden, it featured privileged characters criticising the young for voting Corbyn.

Were they effective?

Momentum targeted and flooded a string of seats with activists – often co-ordinated by text or the net. It concentrated on Labour/Tory and Labour/Lib Dem marginals. Voters were bombarded with viral videos on social media. In Kensington, West London, its volunteers helped win the seat for Emma Dent Coad. It also helped Labour win in Canterbury, Shellfield Hallam and Derby North.

Momentum hosted volunteers from the US former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ campaign. This taught activists how to target undecided voters through ‘persuasion canvassing’. In Leeds North West, so many activists were in the marginal Lib Dem seat they knocked everyone on the electoral register. They overturned a 3,000 majority.

How is it taking over Labour?

Behind the idealism is a cynical hard-Left takeover of party power structures. Momentum now has a majority on Labour’s National Executive Committee, the party’s governing body. Mr Lansman is widely expected to win an NEC seat. Activists are also targeting council seats. In London, a purge of moderates means Momentum may soon control Haringey Council. Mr Lansman wants all council candidate selections to be re-run. Across the country, moderate MPs attacked as ‘Red Tories’ by the Left are fighting off highly organised activists.